The landscape of women’s MMA is constantly changing. It has gone from not even being present in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation to now being almost level to the drawing power of its male equivalent.
The last year in particular has seen some of the discipline’s biggest names travel through a series of peak of valleys. Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate have all risen to the ascendancy and fallen back down in devastating fashion.
It’s made for thrilling entertainment for hardcore and casual fight fans alike, but despite the star power of these names none of these poster-women for women’s MMA will feature this Saturday night at UFC 205: a historic and landmark event for the promotion.
Instead, the honour of flying the flag for women’s MMA this weekend in New York city is reserved for the UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
With a record of 12-0 as well as three title defences, the Polish champion is undeniably the most dominant women in the sport today, yet her fourth defence against Karolina Kowalkiewicz isn’t even worthy of a co-main event slot on the card, such is the quality of the fight card.
The 115lb women’s division arrived in December 2014, two years after the allure Ronda Rousey brought the bantamweight division to the promotion.
A 16-women tournament as part of a season of the Ultimate Fighter show would crown the inaugural champion, with American wrestler Carla Esparza coming out on top.
Jedrzejczyk did not take part in this tournament. While it took place, the 29-year-old quietly went about establishing herself as the women worthy of being the first contender to the eventual winner, picking up decision wins over Juliana Lima and Cláudia Gadelha.
She would challenge Esparza for the strawweight championship at UFC 185. She went into the fight an underdog, according to the bookmakers, but was anything but in her performance.
The same dominant wrestling Esparza showed throughout the Ultimate Fighter tournament was completely nullified by Jedrzejczyk, who unleashed a series of crisp combinations in succession.
Leaving the champion a bloody mess, Jedrzejczyk won the fight officially four minutes into the second round but her dominance and superior skill set was made clear well before the referee intervened.
From that moment on, ‘JJ’ has ruled over the division while rarely (if ever) looking in danger of being defeated.
Wins over Jessica Penne, Valerie Létourneau and a second victory over Cláudia Gadelha brings us to the present day. There have been 15 different UFC champions since Jedrzejczyk won her championship, and she is the second longest reigning current champion behind flyweight Demetrious Johnson.
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Despite such dominance, results and records will not always translate to pay checks and pay-per-view buys. Not every male champion will have the same allure as the likes of Conor McGregor, and similarly not every female champion will be be able to become the same phenomenon Rousey is.
It’s a shame in one regard, given the kind of fighter Jedrzejczyk is and how appealing she is to watch. One could easily make the argument that she is one of, if not the most talented pure strikers in mixed martial arts today.
At UFC 205, Jedrzejczyk’s fourth title defence will play third fiddle to Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor and Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson.
A champion hasn’t defended his or her belt on the main card’s third fight since UFC 33 in 2001 (Dana White previously cited the event as “the worst we’ve ever had”).
Speaking in the lead up though, this doesn’t seem to bother the strawweight champion. Speaking during a recent media conference call (via MMA Mania), Jedrzejczyk outlined her true goals and priorities as a fighter:
“I want to retire as an undefeated champion. This is my goal, what I want.
“I want to fight one or two more times in the strawweight division and then I would like to fight at 125 pounds. I’m ready to go.
“I know I’m not the prettiest and I know I don’t have big boobies and I am not American. But, I want people to remember me as the best female fighter and undefeated in MMA and UFC champion of the world.”
She may not have the blonde hair of Rousey or the trash talking expertise of a McGregor, but there’s no doubting that if the she can maintain the quality of her recent performances inside the octagon her stock will almost certainly rise as a fighter and a champion.
Anderson Silva barely spoke English and Georges St-Pierre was the complete antithesis of the concept of trash-talking, yet they were two of the most dominant and enthralling champions in UFC history. It helps to have the looks or the personality, but world famous fighters become so through their performances first and foremost.
UFC 205 will be the biggest stage Jedzrejczyk has ever fought on, and it gives her the chance to properly announce herself on the world stage as the new face of women’s MMA and the most dangerous women in the world.
Fighters often talk about ‘legacy’ and how they will be looked upon when they finally hang up their gloves. Win, lose or draw the Polish fighter will make history through her sole presence at UFC 205, but should dominate in the same impressive fashion she has already it might be time to accept ‘JJ’ as the true face of women’s MMA.
If you haven’t seen her at work and are planning on staying up to watch McGregor possibly make history, make sure you tune in a little earlier to witness Jedrzejczyk perhaps make some of her own.
It’s worth remembering her name, even if you can’t pronounce it. It’s ‘yen-jey-check’ by the way.
Daniel O’Connor, Pundit Arena